Osteoporosis is a bone disease that involves low bone mass, increased bone fragility and increased susceptibility to fractures. Osteoporosis is a silent disease that advances without warning until a fracture appears. Osteoporosis affects about 6 million Americans; roughly 28 million U.S. women are at risk for developing the disease.
Most people's bones are strongest when they are between 25 and 30 years old. Bone strength is measured in terms of bone mineral density (BMD). After age 35, bone density declines, usually at about 0.5% per year in men and estrogen-rich women.
For postmenopausal women not on estrogen, that rate rises to 2-5% per year for the first 5 years and then settles to about 1% per year. Put another way, women who don't take extra estrogen during the first 10 years after the start of menopause lose about 20% of their total body calcium. Many think osteoporosis affects only women, but it can affect men, too.
People with osteoporosis are at high risk for breaking bones. Broken hips are especially dangerous; 20% of people who break a hip die within 1 year.
The good news is that osteoporosis is preventable and treatable. Learning about risk factors and changing your lifestyle to reduce risks is the first step. There are also medicines that can alter the course of osteoporosis (and in some cases, to actually reverse its effects).
(Overview - by Dr. Tom Bartsokas, M.D., M.S.)